Bilingual Education: Fringe Benefits
Bilingual education has been an option in many parts of the world for over half a century. But does matriculation in a bilingual setting confer a benefit, particularly in early education? The evidence suggests that there are net benefits across multiple domains.
As all parents know well, young children are adept and agile negotiators. This is because cognitive development in the preschool years is significant. Among the most notable advancements is a deeper understanding of another person’s mental state and an increasing ability to explain and predict behavior. This socio-cognitive skill relies, in some measure, on language, and studies have provided strong evidence that bilingual preschoolers are more advanced in their understanding of social dynamics and better able to anticipate the behavior of others.
Exposure to two languages may offer children an additional cognitive advantage. In a study designed to assess several important elements of executive functioning, bilingual toddlers performed far better than those in the monolingual group. They demonstrated superior “selective attention,” the ability to maintain focus and avoid distraction. Equally significantly, they adapted their responses to align with the demands of the situation, showing “cognitive flexibility.”
Additionally, multiple studies have demonstrated that the study of a second language, particularly when initiated in the early years, has a positive impact on academic performance overall. Students’ achievement in English language literacy, social studies and math, as well as on standardized tests, was higher than that of their monolingual peers. Further, students learning a second language are more creative and divergent thinkers, and have a greater facility for solving complex problems. And, of course, in an increasingly interdependent and multicultural world, cultural competency skills are highly valuable.
Finally, recent research suggests that bilingual brains may be more resistant to dementia. According to Dr. Clare Walton, Research Communications Manager at the Alzheimer’s Society at the time of the study’s publication, “This elegant study provides new evidence that people who are fluent in more than one language have some protection against dementia. Brain scans showed that lifelong bilinguals have stronger connections between certain brain areas compared to those who only speak one language – this appears to allow their brains to cope better with damage before they start to show outward signs of dementia.”
Given the data outlined above, perhaps offering your child access to the study of a second language will offer them benefits that will last a lifetime, and position them to more easily navigate the global community of which they will be a part.
Annemiek Young is an Independent Educational Consultant based in Philadelphia. Once the Director of Lower School Admissions at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and formerly Director of Admission and Enrollment Management at Friends Select School in Philadelphia, Annemiek has more than a decade of experience in guiding families through the complexities of understanding a school’s curriculum, community, and program. She has worked with families from all around the world, offering them a framework with which to assess school options as they navigate an unfamiliar education system and determine which setting would be optimal for their child. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University School of Law, Annemiek completed her final year of law school at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and most recently has been accepted as an IECA associate member.
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.